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Clients who were in precious metals and energy in 2016 enjoyed the biggest category comeback stories of the year. In the case of energy, this was partly due to plunging oil prices in 2014 and 2015, which created a low base for a subsequent percentage increase. Commodities were also helped by unexpectedly strong growth in China, as well as OPEC's deal with member nations, said Tom Roseen, head of research services at Lipper.

Still, though, when taking a longer-term view of three to five years, both energy and precious metals are still down, notes Andrew Daniels, equity strategies analyst at Morningstar.

Another notable result was the small-cap comeback, Daniels said. Those smaller companies have historically outperformed large-caps, although that has not been the case over the previous couple of years. He noted that the potential for fiscal stimulus (spending on infrastructure as one example) can create potential growth for small-caps.

Lipper's Roseen summed up by saying that chasing performance can be hazardous to a client's portfolio, noting that "last year’s cellar dwellers turned into this year’s darlings."

Scroll through to see all the big comeback market stories. Comebacks were measured by the largest percentage point increase in 2016 year-to-date performance over 2015 performance. All data is from Morningstar.